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Acton Burnell Castle (Shropshire, England)

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Castle in name only, Acton Burnell Castle is hall-house built by Robert Burnell. He was granted a licence to crenelate by Edward I in 1284, but in most other regards the building is poorly fortified and has limited defensive potential (the walls are thin and there are no arrow holes, for example). At some point there may have been some outer defences, as a gatehouse was referenced in the 16th Century.

Near to the old Roman road of Watling Street, Acton Burnell Castle was built in a significant position. Robert Burnell is also responsible for rebuilding the Church of St. Mary in Acton Burnell in the 1270s. As Bishop of Bath and Wells he also built the still-present Bishop’s Palace in Wells, which shows very similar architecture and styles.

Robert Burnell started as a clerk serving Prince Edward and was one of 3 proctors who looked after the prince’s estates and interests whilst he was on crusade. He was made Chancellor in 1274 and in the following year he was made Bishop of Bath and Wells. A close friend and advisor of Edward I, some historians have claimed that he was the most important royal official of the 13th century.

In 1283, possibly before his new fortified house was even built, he entertained the King and his court at his residence in Acton. Parliament is said to have been held in the great barn of which only two gable ends remains standing within easy sight distance of the castle. It is claimed that this was the first Parliament in which the Commons were fully represented. The law passed became known as the Statute of Acton Burnell, a law giving protection to creditors, indicating the increasing significance of traders during those times.

The castle itself is a rectangular hall with small square turrets on three corners and a rectangular tower contained the chapel on the fourth. Three stories high, the castle consisted of a hall, solar, bedrooms, offices, chapel and kitchen.

A lack of medieval alterations suggests that the castle likely ceased to be of use after the last Lord Burnell died in 1420. The castle then passed to the Radcliffs and then onto the Lovells. Following the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487 the land was confiscated by Henry VII, who in turn granted it to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. By the time it passed to the Smythe family in the mid-17th century, it had been mostly demolished.

Subsequently used as a barn (with arches inserted into the side walls to give access) the castle is now maintained by English Heritage and free to access. There's a layby/parking area immediately next to the site.

Site visited December 2018.

Photos © Completely Castles 2018

English Heritage


The Castles of Wales

Shropshire Tourism

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